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Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Page: 61

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (6:42 PM) —Now we turn to matters that are probably closer to heart. It looks like the nirvana for this fiasco is finally over. The Fuelwatch scheme is finally going to come to rest. This has been a complete and utter debacle from the word go. It shows in clear fashion where the Labor Party is on their economic management. This was a dog when it started. It became mangy through its life, and the less said about its demise the better.

Where would they have taken the Fuelwatch scheme? We have managed to go through the process of designing a scheme that was going to do no more than put up the price of fuel and was going to put the independents under threat. It was just a bells and whistles show, a pitch to the Australian consumer who was under the belief that the government was actually doing something substantive. This Fuelwatch scheme really came to its apex when Mr Walker decided that he had had enough and bolted.

Senator Cormann —Back to WA!

Senator JOYCE —Back to WA! I think that that, coming from the inner sanctums of the ACCC, from those who are ordained to take forward this case, really personifies what a complete and utter botch job this was. This was the botch job of all botch jobs. It is now going to come to rest in a quiet recess of some dusty corner of some luminary from the other side. They will refer to it as ‘when we took on the oil companies’. That was their statement aimed at reducing the price of fuel. It was Mr Rudd who went to the Australian people, and that was his statement—he was going to reduce the price of fuel. He was going to take on the oil companies. He was also going to bring down the price of groceries. We got Fuelwatch and then we got GroceryWatch. We almost ended up with Pensionerwatch. This is why there is this incredible scepticism about this government’s capacity to go to detail, this government’s capacity to actually deliver an outcome. It is a scepticism that is building more and more.

We now see the emails going out about their $10.4 billion stimulus package. The jokes are getting better and better as they wait for 8 December to come, when the Australian economy will inspire the re-empowering of the world economy through retail therapy. This is another example of this type of Fuelwatch mentality. The Labor leopard is starting to develop spots and they all look uncharacteristically the same—it is a Fuelwatch scheme. The process and method of the Labor Party’s path through the Fuelwatch scheme of course brings about the desire of the opposition to question where we are going with the latest motor vehicle package. It is not that we do not believe that we should be protecting the motor vehicle industry—we do. We just have absolute trepidation about their capacity to deliver a scheme that does that. Fuelwatch was a fiasco. Its objective was to ‘empower consumers to make informed decisions’—empower consumers by basically giving the oil companies the capacity to lock out independents in price and to take away any chance of the people who could least afford it making the best of the price dips in the marketplace.

Now we see exactly where we are. The ACCC had to make an appointment from within their own ranks for the Fuelwatch commissioner after Mr Walker, rightly, ran away. It was amazing. In questioning the poor gentleman from the ACCC who has landed this job, I said, ‘You must be the luckiest man in the ACCC.’ He could not help but have a wry smile across his face, because he had been landed with this detritus and one of the more unfortunate approaches of Mr Bowen. This will unfortunately have to go on the record of Mr Bowen, on his capacity and aptitude to bring forth a change that delivers an outcome. It failed miserably.

We never gave the ACCC any real extra powers to deal with this issue. The government never said to them that they were fair dinkum, that they were going to take the oil companies on. They never have the courage or the conviction to hand to the ACCC and to the Fuelwatch commissioner the capacity to truly take on the oil companies. There was never the program to talk about bringing alternate products into the market to bring true competition in. There was never the capacity to look at such things as bio-renewable fuels or coal-to-liquids or a greater incorporation of gas-to-liquids; there was just the belief that, if someone is walking backwards and forwards over you, as the oil companies were, and you somehow said, ‘We’re going to scare you to death with Mr Walker,’ that they would believe it. Of course it did not work. In the end it probably made the situation worse, because now the oil companies have seen the capacity of this government to take them on—and I think they would be resting very easily at night. I do not think they would be losing a minute’s sleep about exactly what the intent of this government is when it comes to bringing back to the Australian consumers a cheaper product. We also have the frustration once more that we have seen the price of a barrel of oil go down—I note the price of the dollar has gone down, but it is also starting to head back up a bit—but we have not seen the delivery back to the consumer of a discount in the price, which they deserve.

Debate interrupted.